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2014 May 21 - 27 TOP3 [HISTORY]

400K books saved from war damage

May 27, 2014
During the late stage of the Pacific War when the U.S. was intensifying bombing attacks on the Empire of Japan, Tokyo had people who risked their lives to protect about 400,000 books from fires.

In July 1944, Nakata Kunizo assumed the post as director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Hibiya Library. He decided to evacuate its collection from Tokyo to safer areas, adding valuable books that were at that time housed by scholars and intellectuals to the planned evacuated collection of books.

A prominent connoisseur of antiquarian books cooperated for free in evaluating the value of privately-owned literature, and the Tokyo authorities paid some million yen for their purchase.

The task, while avoiding aerial bombings, was extremely difficult. Since all men in their prime were taken to the war, those who had to carry the books were the remaining librarians, other libraries’ workers having lost their workplaces in air raids, and students of the nearby school mobilized for labor service.

They loaded the books onto trucks and human-powered two-wheeled carts, travelling back and forth many times between downtown Tokyo to the suburbs 50 kilometers away or to someplace outside Tokyo. They had them hidden in houses or storehouses of village mayors, farmers, and temples.

After the war, some students of that school testified, “I carried an emergency pack filled with books on my shoulder,” “I visited some book collectors to carry their books with me,” and “I remember when I visited Yanagida Kunio (the most well-known ethnologist in Japan) at his home, and he was very worried about the situation in Okinawa.”

About 400,000 books were eventually saved from the ravages of war. The postwar government designated many of those surviving books as cultural assets of national importance.

On the other hand, a total of 400,000 books at Tokyo libraries went up in flames. Akioka Goro, a former Hibiya Library worker, at a lecture meeting held after the war, said, “The only way to protect cultural assets from war damage is to bring an end to war.”
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